Question: Do bar owners owe a duty to protect their invitees from a “sudden” brawl in their bar?
Answer: Businesses must exercise reasonable care to protect their patrons from foreseeable harms, but they are not the insurers of their invitees’ safety. See below.
Business owners need to take reasonable precautions to protect invitees from foreseeable criminal attacks. To determine whether this duty extends to a particular case, the critical inquiry is to answer whether the criminal attack was foreseeable. When foreseeability for duty is evaluated it involves a lesser inquiry, requiring a court, as a threshold legal matter, to evaluate the broad type of plaintiff and harm involved, without regard to the facts of the actual occurrence. By focusing on the general class of persons of which the plaintiff was a member and whether the harm suffered was of a kind normally to be expected, courts must assess whether there is some probability of harm that is serious enough to induce a reasonable person to take precautions to avoid it, not merely that harm is sufficiently likely, since almost any outcome is possible and can be foreseen. Imposing a comprehensive duty on proprietors to afford protection to their patrons from sudden and unexpected criminal acts goes too far, because courts will not abandon the notion of liability based on negligence and enter the realm of strict liability for criminal acts.